Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Absent without leave - Labour fiddling while Britain burns

In surveying the wreckage, what would have been an implausible fantasy a week ago now looks like a moderate version of reality.  The fundamentals have not changed since the result of the referendum, but the froth is dispiriting in the extreme.

The new framework for politics will take a very long time to work through in detail, but traditional boundaries and political divisions are largely irrelevant.  What is needed now is for alignments to emerge that reflect this new situation, building on the anger, frustration and shock that led to both a wanton act of self-harm and now the realisation that the road back to sanity is not simply a matter of turning the clocks back.

While the Tories engage in mutual congratulation, back-slapping and the arcane masturbatory ritual of crowning the latest scrofulous charlatan, there is a real danger of the UK collapsing into an ungovernable mess, without leaders, and where the vast majority of those who voted for the disaster will be unable to identify who has sold them the false prospectus and the destruction of the remaining vestiges of the things they were told they were defending.  Popular anger propels demagogues, dictators and the end of civil society.

Spontaneous and parallel actions are building up.  50,000 people turned out for a "cancelled" demonstration in London last night where the tone is of resistance and of challenge to the right-wing cabal that has now hijacked the Leave campaign.  There are increasing calls for cross- and non-party action to be prepared for a General Election campaign which will be nasty, and where there will be one final chance for a more progressive, representative democracy to emerge.  Greens, Liberals, National party members, along with those excluded from the system, are potentially a nucleus of experience that can be used to deform the existing oligarchies.

Where is the Labour Party in all this?  This is one of the most amazing existential questions that I did not expect to ask in the current situation.  If there has been a coup, it is quite wide-ranging.  The attempt to topple Jeremy Corbyn as leader is ongoing, but it does represent the extent to which Labour, losing its heartlands to fear and loathing, is turning in on itself.  An opposition party, in a time of national crisis, should be articulating the fears, concerns and desperation of those opposed to the direction of travel - and should be setting out at least some of the ways in which it would mitigate the situation.

Instead, we have the spectacle of the Parliamentary Labour Party rejecting their leader, elected through rules put in to encourage participation and avoid accusations of union hegemony.  At the same time, those enthused by Corbyn's outsider status have become sectarian, unwilling to accept that his lukewarm role in the referendum campaign, coupled with his coterie's behaviour within the Party, might have any bearing on the crisis of competence.

Britain needs leadership now.  Not tomorrow.  It does not need the spectacle of John McDonnell addressing a pro-Corbyn rally in a part "Citizen Smith", part North Korean parody act.  It does not need Labour running away from the disaster, leaving the field to be filled by the far right and the others who pervert frustration into the kind of incoherent rage that has sparked racist abuse and violence on a scale that would have been unthinkable even two months ago.

It is less than a fortnight since an MP was assassinated going about her business.  There are angry people out there.  If there is no proposition put to them that demonstrates that their concerns have been listened to, then the consequences are dire.  Even before the constitutional and national disintegration of the country is considered, this requires more than just the goodwill and hand-wringing we have had so far - it needs an articulation of new politics.  Sturgeon, Farron, Bennett and Wood are all stepping out to the plate - the lacuna of Labour is the most shameful evidence to date that they are not interested in representing the very people who need sane politics the most.

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